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eCommerce advice: Should you go headless?

eCommerce advice: Should you go headless?

Question: Why should you choose a headless eCommerce platform?

Answer below:

The "head" is nerd-speak for the front-end glass of your website, the part customers see.

Stated another way, you are currently reading this article from the head of my Shopify store.

If were a headless website, you could expect that the load times would be faster, especially on mobile devices, because a headless website would entail separate codebases for the financials, order history, etc. -- the stuff you can't see anyway -- and the parts you do see (the frontend*). 

Without getting too technical, the point of headless commerce is a leaner site at run time so the site loads faster and the owner of the site gets a big boost to mobile search engine optimization (SEO) scores in Google and Bing. It can be the kiss of death in online commerce for your products to end up on page 2 or lower in search results. The ultimate goal for most businesses is to build such an engaging, content-rich, and fast-loading website that it will land near the top of page 1 in the search engine results page (SERP). 

Beyond performance, headless commerce offers the flexibility to quickly adapt and deploy new features or designs on the frontend without overhauling the entire system in the backend, keeping the site technologically agile and relevant.

Ok, now that we're all up to speed on this part of the "headless" concept, as well as the basics of the sales pitch for this architecture model, let's answer the question with more specificity. 

Headless commerce can make sense if you want a desktop optimized version of your site that is highly differentiated from your mobile site, or any other context in which you would need more than one type of frontend leveraging a shared unified backend, such as one version that is B2B (wholesale) versus B2C (retail).

If you want to deliver a wide range of digital experiences that extend to mobile, internet of things (IoT, i.e., "smart devices"), and multiple types of storefront experiences (multiple "heads") from a single backend, you might want to consider headless commerce. The alternative is epic redundancy throughout your backend to accomplish your front-end goals. However, if all you want is a single mobile optimized eCommerce frontend, headless architecture might be overkill.

Like all "decoupled" architecture models in digital commerce, headless commerce is very developer-dependent. You need talent that can not only create rich digital experiences, but can also maintain the ecosystem of APIs that allow the front and back to communicate with each other.

Finally, consider the following: Why are you are reading this article?

If you didn't know enough about headless commerce to be able to answer these questions on you own, don't try it without help. You will most likely need to contact a systems integration (SI) consultancy firm so they can guide you through this process.

Headless deployments are very technically challenging and you cannot "wing it." Even people who know how to code will find it challenging to maintain a headless commerce system on their own. For example, the tooling is almost exclusively designed for large DTC enterprises. This is a strategy best left to companies with large teams that are highly specialized in multi-experience customer experience (CX) delivery.

*Note: This isn't a typo. This is proper use of front-end (is an adjective) and frontend (is a noun). 

This blog post is an excerpt from a LinkedIn knowledge base contribution from Heather Hershey, founder of and Research Director of Worldwide Digital Commerce at IDC. Ms. Hershey has professional experience in business analytics, global supply chain logistics, international manufacturing and product sourcing, PPC performance analytics, growth marketing, and digital content marketing. Prior to her work with IDC, Ms. Hershey also served as the primary content and SEO strategist for the ongoing redesign of on behalf of the GSA.
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